Daily exercise not only burns fats and builds muscle but it helps adolescents prepare for learning, stabilizes their moods and improves alertness. Cognitive flexibility increases after one thirty-five minute session at sixty to seventy-five percent of maximum heart rate. Daily exercise can also reduce discipline problems in high schools.

The Need for Exercise

  • Seniors who exercised as teens are thirty-five percent less likely to experience cognitive decline and signs of dementia than those who had been sedentary.
  • In the past fifteen years, childhood obesity has grown by more than fifty percent while adolescent obesity has risen by forty percent.
    • Teenagers in households that struggle to afford food are more likely to be overweight and report behaviours associated with obesity.
  • Only thirteen percent of Canadian youth get ninety minutes of physical activity.
    • Teens spend 5.5 hours daily in front of a television, computer or handheld device.

Improved Learning

  • Children who are physically fit score twice as well on academic tests as unfit classmates.
    • Exercise primes the brain for learning, boosts alertness and accelerates the rate of learning.
    • The cerebellum and prefrontal cortex are connected so developing one area helps the other.
    • Submaximal exercise is more effective for girls and vigorous exercise suits boys.
  • Neuroplasticity occurs when new cells are created and plug into the brain’s existing network.
    • Exercise – especially practicing complex motor tasks – promotes this growth.
    • Physical education courses at the start of the school day and help teenagers learn and focus later in the day.

Brain Functions

  • Exercise increases levels of neurotransmitters – serotonin, norephinephrine and dopamine – that facilitate brain function.
  • Increased physical activity also produces anti-oxidant proteins and enzymes that repair cells.

Brain Region


Role of Exercise

Cerebellum Co-ordinates brain functions, including emotions, memory and motor functions
  • Stabilizes cerebellum activity
  • Reinforces connections between movement and attention
Prefrontal Cortex Organizes physical and mental activityControls focus and attention
  • Solidifies connections within the brain
  • Improves self-concept and motivation
  • Raises alertness and ability to concentrate
Hippocampus Consolidates working memory to long-term memory
  • Develops new nerve cells
  • Facilitates connections to existing cells
Amygdala Processes stimuli and directs instinctive response
  • Forms positive associations with stress, reducing anxiety
  • Moderates extreme responses

Increasing Participation in Daily Exercise

  • Self-esteem, self-consciousness and fear of failure are barriers to participation.
    • Choices which allow students to participate in a mix of activities, providing more chances for success.
    • It is important to build a positive association with fitness so teenagers continue to exercise as they become adults.
  • Less than three percent of adults stay fit by participating in team sports so this should not be the only option in P.H.E. class.
    • Smaller games – such as 3-on-3 basketball – facilitate participation by more students and tend to be less competitive.

Implication for Physical Education Class

  • Assess students according to objective criteria such as average heart rate, self-monitoring of fitness level and the creation of personal fitness plans.
  • Adolescents still must learn how their bodies work and how to move correctly.
    • Paying attention while learning challenging skills heighten cognitive functions outside of P.H.E. class.
    • Balance and flexibility training will reduce painful symptoms later in life.
  • Exercise can aid the development of social skills; games should include communication and collaboration components.

List of Resources

  • CBC News. (2009, June 2). Fighting childhood obesity: Is phys-ed enough? Retrieved April 25, 2012, from CBC News: Health: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2009/03/31/f-physed-obesity.html
  • Ratey, J. J., & Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark. New York City: Little, Brown and Company.